Curiouser and Curiouser

Forgive my recent philosophical musings. 

I could share so much about our family life, stories of Maxwell’s rock obsession, Elliot’s love-hate relationship with piano, Maya’s search for justice and tween social time. But lately I’ve been hungry for bigger ideas, a broader perspective. I’m not religious — haven’t been since my senior year in high school — but I’ve always been philosophical. These posts represent my search for meaning. I never really know what I think until I write it down.

When I first encountered the concept of Beginner’s Mind, I read it as “permission to fail.”

A beginner humbly starts where she is, learns all she can, and builds from there.

I feel like a perpetual beginner. I take up new hobbies like a fifth grader reading the extracurricular catalog. Ski lessons? Yes! Beginners clogging? Yes! Flash fiction imagery? Yes!

A humble, beginner’s attitude comes easily.

Explorer of all, master of none: I believe that was my major in college as well.

It’s hibernation season here in Minnesota, and when the winter holidays ended, I gathered books around me like a bear foraging for berries before a long sleep, as if they are nourishment for the long winter.

I found novels of course. A surprising amount of poetry. An interesting new cook book. And philosophy classics, a great towering stack of them that threaten to topple into my pillow while I sleep.

When will I find the time? I can’t tell you. But I am making progress.

I’ve lovingly opened all of my new books, gently flexing their spines and browsing their crisp clean pages, still free of margin notes or water marks from a bubble bath.

Strangely, I found a reference to Suzuki’s Zen Mind, the concept of beginner’s mind, in each book I opened one day.

You know how very good your mind is at weaving connections between random occurrences?

We call them coincidences. Or signs. Or fate.

Beginner’s mind appears to be whispering to me from the pages.

Clearly, I must begin something really exceptional. My cosmic energy is drawing me to the beginning of something. How can this many fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books all point to the same philosophy, one I haven’t noticed in decades of avid reading?

Here’s the problem: I’m not poised to begin anything.

I stand firmly in the middle of so many things.

The middle of parenting my Maya, who is growing up too fast and staring down middle school. The middle of Elliot’s elementary years. The middle of Max’s preschool years. I’m mid-step through many efforts at work and at home. I’m not exactly in the middle of my writing life, but I’m always in progress.

But here’s the thing. I judged the meaning of beginner’s mind too quickly.

Be humble, eager, and unafraid to fail. That is part of beginner’s mind. Be bold and hopeful in your willingness to begin. That is a wonderful, exciting way to live.

But beginner’s mind is much more about maintaining the curiosity and wonder of a beginner, even as you grind through the work-filled middle.

Beginner’s mind is about remaining hopeful and motivated, even when the days get long and my list of responsibilities threatens to overtake me. It is looking with fresh eyes at well-worn paths.

What does this practically mean? How does a person remain curious in daily life?

  • Write: I believe keeping a journal (yes, I keep a daily private journal in addition to all of the musings I toss out here) has helped me celebrate the unknown and notice the wonder-filled minutia of life.
  • Explore: I believe time spent in nature, hiking, canoeing, even running (ever-so-slowly), makes it easier to notice the little things,to find inspiration even among the many daily tasks and well-known responsibilities required in the middle.
  • Keep learning: I’m not poised for a grand beginning, but learning something new always brings a fresh perspective and new energy.  Taking a dance class last year was so much fun. Maybe this year I’ll try pottery or poetry or simply read all of these wonderful new books I’ve gathered.

The strength of beginner’s mind lies in the inspiration it brings to the middle of everything. It’s a way of living, a perspective filled with curiosity and enthusiasm, that makes every phase of life richer.

And it’s something to practice, even as I head off to make the kids’ lunches and help Max write the middle of his rock book.


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